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Lesson Plan Template WCSD Writing Program Teacher’s name: Sue Vaughn Teacher’s school: McQueen H.S.

Writing Type/Genre: Persuasive Writing Lesson Title: The Last Word Standards-based Outcomes: Common Core Standards W.11-12.1a-e  Choose a topic that is interesting to both reader and writer as well as being substantive  Introduce a precise claim and organize the evidence in a way that makes sense to the reader and logically sequences the claim, reasons, and evidence  Use sufficient evidence that is accurate, credible, and relevant to support the claim  Develop claims and counter claims fairly and thoroughly with attention to the audience’s background knowledge, concerns, values, and possible biases.  Use a formal writing style and words, phrases, clauses, as well as varied syntax to create cohesion and distinguish the relationship between claims, reasons, and evidence.  Provide a concluding statement or section that supports the argument

Student Outcomes: Students will be able to write an argumentative essay on a topic of relevance to themselves and their audience, using ethos, pathos and logos arguments. Students recognize and evaluate counter-claims as part of their argument. Audience and Purpose for Lesson: Students like and need to share their opinions verbally on relevant issues in society, and in this lesson, that need is translated into writing. The general public could easily receive an article such as this in the form of a letter to the editor, an opinion article or an actual magazine article. Pre-requisite Skills/Background Knowledge: Ethos, Pathos and Logos must be understood prior to attempting this activity. Students understand the terms claim, counter-claim, and supporting evidence. These skills are taught in grades 9-10 CCSS. Resources/Supplies Needed: Copies of old Newsweek magazines with “The Last Word” on the last page by George Will or Anna Quindlin. List of possible topics. Mentor Text(s): Hillocks, Jr., George. Teaching Argument Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 2011. Clark, Irene L. The Genre of Argument. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company. 1998.

Brief Overview of Lesson: Students will write their own persuasive essays that would stand as a “Last Word” in a news magazine. They must be both objective and persuasive. This assignment is modeled off Newsweek’s weekly feature of the same title. This lesson assumes students have some self-motivation and critical thinking skills. Make changes to the lesson as necessary if students are significantly below grade level or need other accommodations. Effective classroom management and a positive learning environment are crucial to this lesson. The way this lesson has been written assumes that students can work effectively in pairs for 10-15 minutes, can participate in debates for 5-10 minutes, and will participate and volunteer ideas in class. Make changes to pairs, debates, and group work if the classroom needs overt discipline frequently.

Steps in Implementation: Newsweek magazine has, for years, had an editorial on the final page of their magazine called “The Last Word,” and students will be writing their own “Last Word.” Day 1 Introduction: Say to the students in so many words, or print on a handout: Using what Aristotle told us about persuasion (ethos, pathos and logos arguments) and what topic you really are interested in (give this some thought), you’ll need to turn in a single-page essay that persuades the reader regarding your topic. The page should look like the sample page, with three columns, a picture of you, the date, etc. Be sure to highlight your best pithy phrase in bold and in an enlarged font. Turn in your assignment on white paper in black ink. Hand students a sample “Last Word” from Newsweek Magazine. Guide the students to identify – with annotation – the various parts of the article. Start off by asking students to read the entire article. This can be done silently or aloud. Given the voice both authors bring to the text, reading aloud is perhaps the better choice. After students have read the article once through, ask them to circle the main argument/claim. Then, ask them to number the claims for each argument. That is, number the reasons that the author gives that support the main argument. Have a sample ready to show the class. Write these on the board. Ask students to identify the relationship between the claim and the reasons. The reasons prove the claim. Finally, ask students to put an “X” next to any counter argument the writer makes, that is, places where the author identifies the opposing point of view. Discuss the following questions: When does the author say what is in his dissenter’s mind, and then refute it? It is effective when a writer knows what her opposition will say to disagree with her? Why? Do you, students, have topics that you know enough about that you could anticipate what the disagreements would be? Could you provide a rebuttal to those disagreements? Of course you could. Go through some examples that are relevant to them: School uniforms, no cell

phones in the school, strict tardy policies, no underclassmen at the prom, high schoolers should not work, etc. Ticket out: Students write a claim, choose a side, and then write a counter argument. Teacher should go over these briefly after class to see what re-teaching needs to occur before moving on. Homework for students tonight: Come to class with a topic you care about. Write three sentences that convinces the class that you really care and know enough about this topic to complete the assignment. Day 2: Choosing a topic and outlining an argument To check homework, go around the room and students read their three sentences. Students who are not prepared or not persuasive in their topic choice need to be re-taught/conferenced with. As a warm up following the homework check, ask students, on a T-chart or Venn Diagram, to compare and contrast the tones of a Facebook rant with the “Last Word.” Use this to prompt a discussion on the proper tone of the students’ “Last Word” assignment. Ideas that should be brought up by students or the teacher are: 

The writing should be considered “grown-up writing.”

Nobody likes to be shouted at.

Just because the issue is on a political or social spectrum, it should not limit the reader’s understanding, but instead provokes thought on the topic.

The writer should not sound like a jerk. The writer should sound enlightened and informed.

Real people have debates about issues, and when they do, everybody appreciates a respectful tone, that is what makes a conversation instead of a shouting-match.

In the end of this discussion, use two “Last Word” articles by Anna Quindlen and George Will in which they write opposite claims. Discuss phrases and ways the authors use to respectfully disagree with one another. Keep those articles out. Hand out a list of topics. Here are some ideas: Anything close to the student’s lives and school issues work very well for most kids: 

Cell phones should/should not be used in school.

Uniforms should/should not be implemented.

Prom should/not permit underclassmen.

Students with failing grades should/should not be allowed to drive.

Sweets in school does/does not cause child obesity.

Drinking soda does/does not cause teens to lose focus in afternoon classes.

Avoid the following topics, for a variety of reason, but mostly because the issues are too complex to tackle in a one-page argument: 


Health Care Reform

Political Candidates

If you have an extra day, or long classes, the students themselves can come up with lists of great topics, and even lists of topics to avoid. For students who are slow to self-motivate, having a list of topics to assign is crucial. Most students will brainstorm and choose a topic with enthusiasm. Last word on topics here: If the topic a student chooses is very personal by way of defense (“I got pulled over by a cop and he gave me a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt and I’m so very upset about this and these stupid seatbelt laws…”) help the student to choose a topic that is pertinent, but not personal. Topics like these tend to lead the student creating a voice and choosing evidence that is fanatic, immature, and at worst, just plain angry. Homework for students tonight: Begin writing your “Last Word” article. Minimum to bring to class tomorrow: Claim, reasons, counter-argument, and refutation of counter-argument. Day 3: Organization and Writing Conclusions Warm-Up: Put a topic on the board, perhaps a topic you have heard students talking about. Perhaps “Parents of students who graffiti another school should pay for the property damages in full.” Ask students to do the following in pairs: o Write a claim on either side of this argument. Identify if your argument is conservative or liberal. o Write at least two reasons to support your claim. Identify each reason as logos, ethos, or pathos (this is prior knowledge and should have already been taught.) o Write a counter-argument to the claim. Refute the counter-argument; that is, why is your original claim still valid despite the counter-argument? Use student responses as a discussion and class debate. Then, back the students away from the debate, ask students to order by number the best way to organize each of these pieces in their “Last Word” paper. Remind students that though there might be several “right ways” to organize this writing, there are also “wrong ways” as well. If the form doesn’t serve the function, the paragraph order will have to be revised. One last item to teach and discuss with your class, and that is the conclusion. Have a chemistry student explain to the class what a crucible is, and how it works. Ask another student to explain what “residual” means.

These two students should cover the idea that a crucible is a little bowl in used in a science class, it is heated up really hot, and everything burns away inside of it except for a little bit. The little bit that is left is called the residual, and that is what the scientist is most interested it. It is leftover, but it is also the most important, it leaves a mark. Another example of residual is like a stain on your clothes. The stain leaves a residual mark. Ask another student, OK, so how does the idea of a residual help you write a great conclusion that leaves an impact on your reader? Students should say something like, If I want my reader to remember the main idea, I better say it in my conclusion. I better say it in a way that is interesting, maybe funny, maybe witty, and definitely my own. I need to leave my reader with a residual idea that has been written as only I can write it. Ticket out: Ask students to get back into pairs to write a conclusion paragraph (2-3 sentences) for the topic that was originally on the board. They may write a conclusion for either the conservative or liberal side of the argument. Review these. It may be necessary the next day to show students some examples and nonexamples from what you collect in the ticket out. Homework for students tonight: Finish writing your “Last Word” article. Day 4: Checking for the argument Review conclusions, organization, or any other aspect of this assignment that students are indicating that they do not fully understand. This must be done before moving on to the rubric. Get a student’s paper, perhaps remove the name. Hand out the rubric to the students. Go through this students’ draft with the class on the overhead/ELMO as though you were grading it. 

What is the claim? Is it controversial?

What are the reasons against the claim?

Are counter-arguments present? Is the claim valid despite these counter-arguments?

How is the writing organized, is this effective?

Does the voice want me to care about this topic? Does this writer care about this topic?


Give the students two more samples (included in this lesson “The Potato Sack Race” and “The Easy Way Out”) and ask students to grade the samples, in pairs. Ticket out: “Based on the grading you saw the teacher do, and your grading of the two samples, please write down two things about your “Last Word” that you are going to keep and two things you are going to change tonight. Explain your revision choices.”

Ask students if they have chosen a picture yet. Have a brief discussion on why the picture is important. Who is the author? Why do we like to visualize the author? Homework for students tonight: Finished and polished draft of students’ “Last Word” is due tomorrow. Day 5: Turn-in: actively evaluate, reflect, and show pride in writing. Hand out the self-evaluation rubric. Students fill this out in pairs. They may grade their own, but with a partner, as it is nice to ask a partner what he or she thinks for affirmation. Students turn in their “Last Word,” show you their picture and title, staple rubric to back. Perhaps, if you have time, students read one sentence from their writing to the class as they bring up their work.

Revision Strategy: Write from the other perspective (conservative/liberal).

Rubric: See attached. This is a self-assessment rubric. Teachers can have students self-assess or peer-assess with this rubric. Teachers may, of course, also use the rubric to assess the student. Student Samples: See samples attached.

Universal Access: A less difficult or less controversial topic would make this essay easier to write.

Connections/Extensions: Write from the other perspective (conservative/liberal) in pairs. Present as oral debates. The topic for writing could be assigned rather than students’ choice. Topics in every subject area could be used.

Additional Resources:

Credit: Aristotle, for understanding persuasion and sharing his understanding with the world.

Criteria The claim

4 I make a claim and explain why it is controversial.

I give clear and Reasons in support of the accurate reasons in support of my claim. claim




I make a claim but don't explain why it is controversial.

My claim is buried, confused and/or unclear.

I don't say what my argument or claim is.

I give reasons in support of my claim but I may overlook important reasons.

I give 1 or 2 weak reasons that don't support my claim and/or irrelevant or confusing reasons.

I do not give convincing reasons in support of my claim.

Reasons against the claim

I discuss the reasons against my claim and explain why it is valid anyway.

I discuss the reasons against my claim but leave some reasons out and/or don't explain why the claim still stands.

I say that there are reasons against the claim but I don't discuss them.

I do not acknowledge or discuss the reasons against the claim.


My writing has a compelling opening, an informative middle and a satisfying conclusion.

My writing has a beginning, middle and end. It marches along but doesn't dance.

My writing is organized but sometimes gets off topic.

My writing is aimless and disorganized.

Voice and tone

It sounds like I care about my argument. I show how I think and feel about it.

My tone is OK but my paper could have been written by anyone. I need to tell more about how I think and feel.

My writing is bland or pretentious. There is either no hint of a real person in it or it sounds like I'm a fake.

My writing is too formal or too informal. It sounds like I don't like the topic of the essay.

Word choice

The words I use are striking but natural, varied and vivid.

I make routine word choices.

The words I use are often dull or uninspired or sound like I am trying too hard to impress.

I use the same words over and over and over and over. Some words may be confusing to a reader.

Sentence fluency

My sentences are clear, complete, and of varying lengths.

I have well-constructed sentences.

My sentences are sometimes awkward, and/or contain runons and fragments.

Many run-ons, fragments and awkward phrasings make my essay hard to read.


I use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

I generally use correct conventions. I have a couple of errors I should fix.

I have enough errors in my essay to distract a reader.

Numerous errors make my paper hard to read.

Copyright 2010 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Last Word Essay  

Students will write their own persuasive essays that would stand as a “Last Word” in a news magazine. They must be both objective and persu...

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